Multan Marvels

It wasn’t long ago that Gareth Southgate was giving advice and inspiration to England’s cricketers. Little did we know, at the time, that our footballers would’ve been better off listening to our cricketers. If the FA want an inspirational man-manager to lead the nation into the Euros in 18 months’ time, they could do a lot worse than hiring Brendon McCullum. They might also consider Ben Stokes on the bench to take any crucial penalties. These two can do little wrong at the moment.

The result in Multan this morning was just further evidence of a terrific turnaround in our Test team’s fortunes. Yes, it was touch and go at times, but we wouldn’t want life to be boring, would we? What’s more, the game was only close because the pitch seemed to get flatter as the game went on. Batting first was therefore probably a disadvantage in this particular contest.

There were times during yesterday’s play when getting wickets looked almost impossible. There was precious little turn for our finger spinners, no pace for Wood to exploit, and Saud Shakeel and Imam-ul-Haq looked serene. The only wickets seemed to come from miracles balls. Hardly anything was beating the bat.

Lesser England teams probably would’ve given up at this stage. They’d have rued their luck, had a sulk, and saved their energy for the next game. However, the current XI seem to conjure wickets from nowhere when they really, really need them. I guess it’s down to belief – something we’ve rarely had in the past. I never doubted that we’d win, either. It’s just what this team does.

Of course, this victory comes with the usual caveats. We threw away some wickets with poor shot selection when we could’ve / should’ve batted Pakistan out of the game in the second innings. And obviously there will be much tougher Tests ahead for BazBall, particularly in next year’s Ashes series. If you bet on cricket then you’ll know that Australia are still big favourites with the bookies to retain the Ashes despite England’s recent form. The subsequent tour of India will probably be even tougher. If this attacking strategy comes off against Ashwin and Co in their own backyard then it really would be something special.

While we’re waiting for these sterner tests, all we can do is wonder where this amazing transformation has come from? This is, after all, pretty much the same group of players. Harry Brook has played magnificently – a real star in the making – but it’s not like Jonny Bairstow wasn’t scoring runs before Brook’s arrival. Meanwhile, the runs have temporarily dried up for Joe Root. We used to rely on our ex-skipper completely – we’d struggle to make three figures without him – but now runs are flowing aplenty from the top, middle and lower orders. It can hardly believe it.

The big question, of course, is where this leaves Andrew Strauss’s High Performance Review? We shouldn’t forget that our suboptimal domestic structure still isn’t geared towards developing Test batsmen. But does it really matter if, in the modern era, attacking players are so skilled that they can still thrive anywhere, at any time, anyway?

Basically, I don’t know what to make of the situation. Are Stokes and McCullum saving the counties, by proving that there’s still plenty right with our domestic game, or are they papering over cracks that will inevitably re-emerge again in the future when the decline behind the scenes may have become irreversible? I really haven’t got a clue. And I don’t think anyone else does, either.

It’s safe to say, however, that the current XI’s heroics will probably give the status quo a stay of execution. And that includes The Hundred too – although I’m hopeful that Thompson and Gould might find a way to shorten it and bring some championship cricket back to summer. I fully expect, therefore, that Strauss’s review will soon be consigned to the dustbin and never mentioned again.

Anyway, perhaps these existential questions are for another day. For now, I’m just going to enjoy today’s win while it’s still fresh. England have taken 20 wickets again on an overseas pitch that was (in the end) very good for batting.

And now, with the series in the bag, we can debate trifling but enjoyable selection issues instead. For example, should England give Rehan Ahmed a game in the third Test? After the success enjoyed Abrar Ahmed in this game, it would be nice to say to Pakistan, “anything you can do, we can do better”.

James Morgan


  • Fantastic series win. Incredible performances by several players. On selection I can’t agree with Pope continuing to keep wicket while batting at three. Hopefully Foaked will be back for the next test.

    • I kind of agree with you Ian, but it is a real conundrum. Pope has been more than adequate behind the stumps, but coming in at 3 after an early wicket falls is too much to ask when you have been crouching down for ten hours. Moving him down from three would break a good run that he has had in that position. But Foakes would have to replace Jacks which wold be a pity, although hewuld probably contribute more overall.
      I like the idea of introducing Rehan, but that would probably be at the expense of Leach, whom Stokes has successfully rehabilitated.
      Hats off to the pace trio; Anderson Robinson and Wood didn’t even need a heroic intervention from Stokes.
      And hats off of course to Stokes and Mac. They said they wanted to entertain more than they wanted to win every time and they have somehow managed both.

      On another matter, does player of the match always have to go to the winning team? I think that Abrara Ahmed would have been a nomination grudged by nobody.

      • I think Jacks would lose his place if Ahmed plays. He hardly bowled in the second innings. It’s not a great sign when Root is getting lots of overs and you’re not.

  • I would bring Foakes in instead of Jacks, who isnt a test bowler at the moment imho. Possibly Overton for Wood dependent upon fitness. If Pope is to bat at 3 he needs to specialise, it is a tough gig anyway without keeping as well.

  • Great win for England but the ultimate judgement will be on how they perform in next year’s Ashes….

    • May I ask, what do you expect England’s first-choice XI to be for the First Test at Edgbaston on June 16?

  • Bazball England;
    Walker, Stones, McGuire, Alexander Arnold.
    Saka, Bellingham, Foden, Grealish.
    Kane, Toni.

    5 to come on if required;
    Trippier, Cody, Phillips, Maddison, Rashford.

    Thanks but no thanks to Shaw, Henderson, Stirling and Mount.

  • England is already out of the WTC23 contest. that is the reason why they play fearlessly. we have to see how they play in the next season of the WTC.

    • This strikes me as, to use the technical term, a load of garbage. And to be short of knowledge on Stokes, McCullum and Englaish cricket post-2015.

      • Repeating James’s words from August is “trolling”?

        Sensitive souls.

        Should he not address the fact that he was unwilling to support England a few months back? But now he’s done a complete 180 because they’re winning?


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